Nearly a year ago, footage of a police officer forcibly arresting a nurse in a Utah hospital horrified millions of viewers and shed a brighter light on an unfortunate reality—that health care providers, especially nurses, experience some of the highest rates of workplace violence in the U.S.
In a 2014 survey by the American Nurses Association of more than 3,700 registered nurses, 43 percent said they had been verbally or physically threatened by a patient or patient’s family member. Another 24 percent said they had experienced physical assault.
In another 2014 survey, published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, three-fourths of more than 760 nurses said they experienced violence at some point in the past year.
Industry data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a similar picture. In 2016, employees in private health care and social assistance reported 552,600 non-fatal workplace injuries—the most of any private industry sector.
Within industry sub-sectors, state-owned nursing and residential care facilities reported the highest incidence rates of non-fatal injury and illness—higher even than local police protection, fire protection and private manufacturing.
These numbers do not surprise University of Cincinnati College of Nursing Associate Professor Gordon Gillespie, PhD, DNP, RN, CEN, CNE, CPEN, PHCNS-BC, FAEN, FAAN. As a critical care nurse, he encountered many combative patients, and these experiences became “part of normal practice.”
As a result, Dr. Gillespie, in collaboration with other University of Cincinnati faculty members, has devoted more than a decade of research to workplace violence management and intervention.
April is annually designated national Workplace Violence Awareness Month by the Alliance Against Workplace Violence to call to light the preventable nature of most workplace violence incidents and usable measures to stop them.
“We’re trying to dispel the belief that a lot of nurses have been taught—that this is part of the job,” says Assistant Professor Carolyn Smith, PhD, RN. She and Dr. Gillespie are researching ways to manage and prevent workplace violence and develop related curriculum to equip the next generation of nurses against this behavior.
With help from the National Institute of Occupational and Health Safety, Dr. Gillespie developed a series of case studies for undergraduate nursing students. This school year, he's working with Dr. Smith and other UC faculty members to test an updated version, meant for both undergraduate and graduate students.
The case studies provide examples of workplace violence—mainly centered on horizontal violence, or emotional abuse, bullying and other negative behaviors between co-workers—and ways to respond. Faculty members will review the efficacy of these updated training modules later this year with the ultimate goal of making them available online to nursing schools across the country.
Further details about this research will be available in the Summer 2018 issue of UC Nursing, set to publish in July.